Online betting, compulsive gambling on the rise amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Experts say the …

Andy Thompson

| Appleton Post-Crescent

Years ago, Rose Blozinski of the Wisconsin Council on Problem Gambling took a phone call from a woman who was in big trouble.

“A stay-at-home mom did some online gambling and said, ‘I owe them $30,000,'” Blozinski said of the phone call from the anonymous woman to the Council’s helpline. “We gave her resources to contact for help with her addiction. But I never heard from her again and I don’t know how it turned out.”

That happened more than two decades ago, but fears about online gambling, which has been rising amid the COVID-19 pandemic, have returned – and intensified.

Casinos were largely shut down in March as the pandemic took hold in Wisconsin. But many people turned to online, and unregulated, sites to play everything from slots to poker and blackjack.

Blozinski said gamblers who immerse themselves in online gambling are taking a huge risk.

“If you are a gambler and you are addicted to it, you are not just going to stop when the casinos close. That addiction is very strong,” she said.

Online gamblers typically use credit cards to provide gambling stakes, but since the state doesn’t authorize the legitimacy of sites, bettors find it difficult to track wins and losses.

“When you’re online, you’re walking into a territory that is not necessarily known,” Blozinski said. “How do you know what’s legitimate or not? How would you ever know if you won or didn’t win?”

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The National Council on Problem Gambling said the situation with online betting needs to be addressed.

“We’ve seen an increasingly wide expansion of online gambling during the pandemic, including sports betting, Lottery, and social gambling, as well as various methods of cashless payment,” the Council said in a statement.

“We expect this to escalate as more state governments face budget shortfalls in the next two years. Protecting consumers who gamble, as well as their families, needs to be part of legislation, regulation and gambling company operations.”

Family Addiction Specialist, which provides services in Manhattan and Brooklyn, New York, states on its website that “many of the major triggers for gambling are being exasperated during this period of quarantine and stay-at-home orders.”

“These triggers include loneliness, boredom, stress, anxiety and depression. As many of us are currently isolated in our homes, gambling has become an outlet to reduce restlessness and monotony and to cope with loneliness and negative mood.”

In addition, working from home “removes some of the barriers and safety nets that some people have relied on to help manage their gambling consumption.” That includes having virtually no supervision or support from supervisors and little risk of getting caught gambling, according to the website.

“Being at home also means more screen time for many. As such, there is an increase in exposure to gambling-related advertisements that can serve as a significant trigger to gamble.”

Blozinski, the executive director of the Wisconsin Council on Problem Gambling, said online betting could be taking a significant toll in Wisconsin, pointing out that the Council estimates that approximately 333,000 residents have a gambling problem.

The helpline received 12,283 calls in 2019 from people who were looking for help with gambling addictions, she said. The average debt reported by callers was $20,714.

“That number fluctuates,” Blozinski said. “Some people who call don’t necessarily report a number. We’ve seen it as high as $70,000 – although $20,000 is a big amount.”

The Council has added a texting line and a chat line to its services.

“We try to keep up with the times,” she said. “We get calls every year from every county in the state. There was a lull in calls when everything was shut down. But the calls have picked up.

“I’m sure that online gambling is an issue. If you have someone who is into their addiction big time, it is very difficult to stop cold turkey. I’m sure people have found another option.”

Andy Thompson can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @Thompson_AW.

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Things to keep in mind when considering betting on online sites

Set limits for the time spent on sites and set a limit on the amount of money to wager.

Don’t spend money that’s been set aside for bills and food.

Be cautious about gambling on sites that aren’t sanctioned in Wisconsin. If you choose to gamble, select options that are sanctioned in the state, including the lottery and Indian casinos.

Avoid seemingly random betting sites.

Source: Wisconsin Council on Problem Gambling

Who to contact for more information

The Wisconsin Council on Problem Gambling; 1-800-GAMBLE-5, available 24 hours a day. Chat line available at wi-problemgamblers.org. Text line at: 850-888-HOPE.

Family Addiction Specialist: https://www.familyaddictionspecialist.com/

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